Executive Travel & Sightseeing

Bristol, future looking good!

SPEAKER’S CORNER: As the mood of business becomes more optimistic, James Durie, executive director for Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative at Business West, maps out how our city can share in the growth that everyone is predicting for 2014.

IT HAS been a tough five years, and no one is expecting more than a steady climb upwards in 2014. But – tellingly – our recent regional survey of economic sentiment recorded 79 per cent of the 640 respondents feeling “confident”. That is a 20 per cent hike on the previous quarter, and considerably higher than this time last year. We have moved from “cautiously optimistic” to “optimistic” on the virtual swingometer.

One year ago, I saw 2013 being a cup-half-full year, suggesting that we were in a great position to take advantage of any growth potential in the economy. That remains true, and key elements such as the Temple Quarter enterprise zone and the five enterprise areas are starting to kick in. This gives us a clear employment land offer across the strategic locations as well as a degree of control over our own destiny in terms of allocating new business-rate tax income from those areas.

Last year I cited a list of accolades that Bristol had received in terms of desirability as a place to live, work and invest. This year we can add significantly to that list. We are officially the “best city to live in” within the UK for wealth and happiness, the top place for ethical investment outside London, one of the cities to benefit from the Smart City Forum, and the UK’s fourth-fastest-growing city.

As a Smart City we will be European Green Capital 2015. That is not just a great chance to raise our international profile, attract more investment and jobs but show how, through sustainability, we can work – across health, wealth and prosperity – for all in our city and demonstrate leadership on the green agenda. Liverpool really maximised the opportunities of being 2008 European Capital of Culture. The same man, Kris Donaldson, is leading Bristol for 2015 – a real coup for our city.

There are optimistic indicators such as the first big speculative office developments for several years, and the fact that the £7.2 billion electrification of the Bristol to London line has moved closer, as has the city region’s new MetroBus system and the much-needed link road. Bristol Temple Meads station will be refurbished, Even the arena is edging closer.

The south Bristol link road, with its MetroBus line connecting south Bristol to the centre and north of the city, gives us a real chance to rectify one of the inequalities blighting our growth and prosperity over recent decades. No city can truly be at ease with itself if all of its population does not have a chance to share in those opportunities.

And there is more. The West of England Local Enterprise Partnership has just put out its strategic economic plan for consultation – an opportunity to take a big share in the Government’s £2 billion growth fund. Through a smart-specialisation approach they are asking for up to £480 million of that national pot over six years to boost five key growth sectors: low carbon, high tech, advanced engineering/aerospace, creative and digital media, and professional and legal services.

Tens of thousands of jobs could be created over the coming few decades for our city region – not just within those sectors, but in support industries too: everything from health and education through to leisure, transport and construction. We have still to win that money – which will undoubtedly be leverage for further private investment – but our LEP has earned a reputation as one of the most effective and forward thinking of the 39 LEPs in the country. The bids will be judged on return on investment – and we can do just that.

So, there is plenty of good news – but I do think one or two caveats are in order.

Five of the pillars enabling economic growth are land, infrastructure, skills, access to funding and business support.

The first two are being addressed. Business support is readily available through us at Business West and our partners – including strategic advice for start-ups and growing enterprises, as well as companies looking to develop markets abroad. Being judged Britain’s number-one chamber of commerce this year was a real endorsement of our ability to deliver. However, there is a more we should be able to offer with the right support.

Already we are being told by some employers that skills shortages are emerging, while access to funding certainly continues to be an issue for many small companies. More needs to be done. Equally, we are still failing to provide enough housing to really meet the needs of our growing population. That could prove a severe drag on growth in the next decade.

There is still more work to be done for our sub-region to operate as a leading region with our two cities of Bristol and Bath. The Bristol and Bath inward-investment team are making good progress. But to compete in a global marketplace for inward investment, and at a time of diminishing public finances, we have to put differences aside and promote ourselves as a united, connected, supportive city region. The same is true if we are to persuade Government that we can make maximum use of the various pots of money available to support regional growth. Bristol has the potential to move to another level of growth and prosperity. We must not miss that opportunity

Read more: http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Best-city-happiness-wealth/story-20389754-detail/story.html#ixzz2pEkQukok

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